So I recently updated my Facebook profile picture to the same one that's here on my blog, and my primary reason for doing so was simply because I think it's a good picture of me. But I also happen to be wearing a very visible "This is what a feminist looks like" T-shirt in the picture.
If I could've updated the picture without everyone seeing it on their timeline, I would have, because I knew it would generate comments. Furthermore, for every person who posted a comment, there were undoubtedly 20 others who thought something, but didn't post it.
In addition to the obligatory comments likening me to Brian Posehn (the most hideous-looking actor in Hollywood), and in addition to the smart-alecky comments from old fraternity brothers, one person said the following:
Feminism isn't really about supporting women or women's rights, it's more about spite and envy directed towards men.
This led me to thinking about the reasons why I consider myself a feminist, and what feminism really means to me versus what a lot of people might think of when they hear the word "feminism."
To suggest feminism isn't about supporting women or women's rights is patent nonsense. That's certainly what it's about for me. It's about standing in solidarity with women's rights and women's issues. I'm a man; obviously I'm not interested in directing spite and envy towards my own gender, and neither are the vast majority of the women I know and am acquainted with, many feminists included.
Women have been regarded as second-class citizens in most societies for most of human history. In some modern societies, they still are. Since the advent of human civilization, men have been controlling what women do, what they say, how involved they get to be in politics and culture, what kinds of jobs they can have, what kind of education they can have, what they can expect out of life, and how they should treat their own bodies. In the modern west, most of these issues have been addressed and are no longer a day-to-day struggle for most women. Instead, they have taken on new dimensions. Women today, for instance, can and do vote and participate in the political process. But we still live in a society that is in many ways distrustful of female politicians and which doesn't encourage female participation in political leadership. Of our 100 U.S. senators, only 21% are women. The U.S. House is even worse, with only 19% women. Only 10% of U.S. states have female governors.
Is this all the fault of men? Of course not. But considering the sorts of things women must endure if they want to enter politics (from both men AND women, sadly), it's hardly surprising that many gifted women prefer to do something else or work behind the scenes.
This is just one example, of course. There are countless others. Violence against women. Rampant sexism. Religious traditions that still deny women ministerial and/or leadership roles. Access to reliable and affordable gynecological and obstetric care including, when necessary, safe abortion services. Strong social protections for single mothers and their children. Equal educational and vocational opportunities, including equal pay.
I totally agree that there are some feminists out there for whom feminism is (or certainly seems to be) largely about spite against men and metaphorically castrating men. These are what you might call "militant" feminists and they seem to be interested not in equality and protection for women and women's rights, but rather for replacing a perceived patriarchy with what could only be called a matriarchy. They don't want to be equal with men, they want to rule men. And anytime they perceive something wrong in society, especially in regards to women, it's all men's fault. Presumably, even the millions of women who are opposed to "feminism" in general are just under the spell of the evil patriarchy.
I don't think this characterizes most self-proclaimed "feminists." I think militant feminists are just like many other groups in society - they are a loud minority who, by virtue of their extremism, get a lot of media attention.
Defining feminism by militant feminists is a bit like defining Islam by Islamic terrorists or Christianity by fire-breathing fundamentalists. It's like defining white Americans by the KKK.
I also want to make a brief comment on the "envy" thing. I think that bothered me more than anything about my friend's comment, because it implies that men enjoy certain inherent virtues or abilities that women don't have and which are, therefore, "enviable." That, of course, is biological nonsense, and that attitude is exactly why standing for, and supporting, women's rights is still so important.
So yes, I am a feminist, and I am proud to stand in solidarity with women and their continued pursuit of equality and fairness in society, even as millions of other men and women roll their eyes or, at times, stand boldly in their way.